Crowds at this year’s Australian Open will be capped at half the pre-Covid average, after Victoria’s top health official signed off on allowing up to 30,000 spectators to attend the start of the tournament next month.
On Saturday, Victoria’s sports minister, Martin Pakula, confirmed the government had agreed to a plan that would allow daily crowd capacity of 30,000 for the first eight days of the tournament, reducing to 25,000 per day from the start of the tournament quarter-finals.
Pakula said a total of 390,000 people were expected to attend Melbourne Park to watch the tournament during the fortnight, about half the average attendance in recent years.
He said it would be “the most significant event with crowds the world has seen for many, many months”.
“That means on Rod Laver Arena, as we get to the end of the tournament, we’ll have an incredible atmosphere, not that different to the atmosphere we’ve seen in all the Opens in years past,” Pakula said.
On Saturday the Tennis Australia chief executive, Craig Tiley, revealed that 22 players remained in hotel quarantine, including Japan’s Kei Nishikori and the French world No 28, Benoit Paire. The last players were to be released at midnight on Saturday.
The hotel quarantine program has come in for criticism from some Open participants, but Tiley insisted to reporters that “99.9%” had been satisfied.
Tiley said players who had been through a hard lockdown – meaning they were unable to access training facilities during the quarantine due to positive Covid-19 cases on flights to Australia – had been given “priority” with their schedules and access to training facilities.
Also on Saturday, the Western Australian premier, Mark McGowan, announced travellers from Queensland and Victoria would no longer have to self-isolate upon arrival in the state from next week.
Victorians will not have to self-isolate on arriving in WA from next Friday, with the state designated “very low risk” from that time. From 12.01am on Monday, Queensland arrivals will also be downgraded to a “very low risk” category.
But travellers entering WA must be prepared to take a Covid test and undergo health screening, as well as complete a declaration about where they have come from.
New South Wales will be rated a low risk, with arrivals still required to self-quarantine for two weeks and undergo a Covid test.
Australia again recorded no new cases of community transmission on Saturday. Victoria has now gone 24 days with no new cases of the virus outside of hotel quarantine.
WA recorded no community cases of the virus in the past 24 hours, marking nearly 10 months without a virus case in the WA community. But three cases have been detected in hotel quarantine in the past 24 hours.
Two of those cases are of the new variant strains of the virus, making a total of seven variant strain cases in the quarantine system.
Victorian health authorities announced virus fragments had been found in wastewater at three more Victorian towns, including the popular holiday destinations of Cowes and Castlemaine.
The fragments were found at Castlemaine, Cowes and Pakenham on 27 January.
The health department urged residents and anyone who had visited these areas from 25 January to 27 January to get tested if they had symptoms of the virus.
It said the virus detections at each of the locations were weak, and could be due to people who had recovered from Covid-19 continuing to shed the virus.
Viral fragments were also recently detected in wastewater in Gisborne, Hamilton and Leongatha.
People who were in Gisborne from 24-26 January, in Hamilton from 25-27 January or in Leongatha from 17-19 January were also being urged to get tested.